There’d been a fight. A disagreement with Watson. The details were growing hazy, blurred by the cocaine she’d had and the adrenaline of the one fight she’d already been in. Everyone at the boxing ring thought she was a man. She kept her shirt on, always, bound underneath it, and she left her hair short and untamed. Short hair she could wear wigs over and pin things into - long hair had to be hidden in ways she didn’t have time for.
Those sorts of tasks fell to Watson, who insisted on keeping her hair long.
She’d been trying not to think about Watson.
A futile task, indeed. Even with the distraction in the ache of her knuckles and the buzz of her mind, she carried some part of Watson with her constantly. That she had forgotten the matter of their fight was a lie. Yet another disagreement about Watson’s desire to get married. She knew that Watson either genuinely thought she was just selfish enough to only want Watson there for platonic companionship and the work, or that Watson preferred to tell herself that - make herself believe it.
They fought around the idea, they always had, but women had it easier than men. With Watson having been a nurse, and her family dead, and Holmes being eccentric and steadily nearing everyone’s idea of an old maid, there was no one who would bother them, certainly not the police. They could live together without either of them marrying and no suspicion would be garnered.
Of course, maybe Watson truly wanted to get married. But that was something Holmes could hardly bear to think on.
They called her into the ring again, and she was desperately glad for the distraction. Even though the weather had been cool tonight, it was stifling hot in the ring, surrounded by countless people, all sweating, all wearing far more clothing than they wanted to be. Holmes’ skin was still sticky with dried sweat and a bit of blood from her first match. She would be glad to be actually sweating again - it would be far preferable to her current state. Much cooler that way.
Her opponent was taller and broader than her. They tended to be. She’d lost a few matches when she’d started fighting at the ring, having only started after all out of an attempt to save Watson’s purse, but once she’d started fighting to let off steam, she hadn’t lost.
Her knowledge of fighting was part theoretical, part from sneaking her way into Mycroft’s lessons whenever possible. Passing as an unknown young boy and getting whatever knowledge she could had been one of her specialities. Her family had told her, of course, that proper young ladies were only educated well enough to keep up with their husband’s work. She had no interest in any of that.
Holmes pulled herself back to the present moment and sized up the man currently standing in front of her.
He’d been in two fights tonight already - his ribs on the left side were cracked and he’d twisted that ankle as well. He was favouring his right side very heavily. It would be easiest to start on the ribs, deliver a blow to the face while he was doubled over, hit him again in the torso, again near the jaw, and then further disable his ankle to get him off his feet.
She did exactly that as soon as the fight was called - he got one blow in to her face, one near her hip, but nothing serious. He was down, Holmes was worn out, and still she was feeling dissatisfied.
She took one last fight, and it was even easier - another man who was already slightly injured from previous fights. Still, her exhaustion meant he got in a couple of hits as well. There were no fresh fighters this late in the night, though. No one that provided a challenge. Frustrated and still sweating, Holmes took Watson’s winnings and a drink from the bar, heading to her bolthole upstairs with the hope that she could sleep off a bit of her frustrations now that she was drinking and physically exhausted.
She startled awake in the morning without realizing she’d ever quite fallen asleep, aching and still sticky with blood and sweat, eyes opening to find Watson leaning over her, having nudged her with her walking stick.
“You have got to stop this, Holmes.”
Stretching, feeling the burn of sore muscles and all the injuries she’d acquired the previous night, Holmes closed her eyes again and hummed. “What? Boxing? That’s hardly very likely, Watson. I win you money, you don’t really want me to stop.”
She could have continued, but Watson cut her off. “That’s not what I meant, Holmes. There’s syringes in the drawer, you’re covered in bruises and you’ve gotten your lip split again. You run off here when you’re in a mood over something and you push yourself too far.” Watson sighed. This talk was one they’d had before, as Watson well knew. “Budge up and let me tend to you, at least. I brought my things when I figured I’d find you here.”
Flashing her a quick smile at the change in subject, Holmes carefully levered herself up and moved so that she was facing Watson, who was perched on the edge of the cot. It put them rather close to each other.
It would be horribly wrong to say, that this was at least a slight motivation in running off and getting herself hurt. A thought she had in moving into a punch instead of away - that Watson would find her the next day, feel sorry, and gently tend to her wounds. Still. There were many ways in which Holmes knew she was horrible to herself. Letting herself get hurt to have these moments was hardly the worst thing she’d ever done.
She blinked a few times as she felt the cool touch of whatever Watson was using to clean her face a bit, and she turned her gaze to her friend.
The moment was fragile, and made her feel dangerously vulnerable.
“Do you really find so little enjoyment in what we do?”
Watson’s hand stopped, and she made eye contact with Holmes. Her expression was an odd mix of potential emotions - practically unreadable.
“I don’t think you really expect me to answer that.”
Typical of Watson. Dodging instead of answering. Still, it rather spoke for itself, didn’t it? Holmes closed her eyes again, and just waiting for the moment to be over. The antiseptic stung, and she suddenly only felt tired and sore and longed for her room in Baker Street.
Apparently something about her silence distressed Watson, though. There was a scoffing noise, and the cool, burning sensation was gone - Watson’s hand had dropped. Holmes opened her eyes to find Watson grumpily rummaging in her medical bag.
“You are so impossibly selfish. I want one thing for myself after all this time, I choose to try and find someone to become engaged to, and you go running off like this, right into something that could get you killed. And before you start, no, I don’t doubt your abilities, so there’s no need to throw a tantrum. But I am exhausted from you being so unbelievably childish about this!”
Holmes frowned, her brow furrowing. She hadn’t wanted to reopen the argument from last night. She’d hoped Watson’s usual reticence would have taken precedence by now.
“I fail to see how I’m being childish or selfish.”
Watson laughed, but it was humorless. It was a sound Holmes hated. She looked down, into her own lap, toying with the fabric of her trousers.
“That’s all you ever do! You just expect me to come running after you, to give up everything and follow along, to keep you safe and pay no attention to whatever I might have had planned. And for whatever reason, I do!”
“I suppose I was under the apparently mistaken impression that you enjoyed it.” Holmes’ voice was quiet. She’d spoken before she really had time to think it through, and she hadn’t meant to say it. Still. She could hardly regret it. She stood from the cot and went over to the desk to gather her things. She didn’t look at Watson.
“That’s hardly fair.”
Her gaze sharpening, she did turn to Watson, then. Her friend looked tired, but it didn’t soften her own annoyance. “Fair? I fail to see what’s unfair, I’ve merely stated the truth that you’ve been telling me since you got here today, and that’s in addition to the things you said last night. I thought that you came along because you enjoyed what we do, I did not think that I had been forcing you to take care of me as if I was some kind of child. I won’t try to claim I’m very responsible, but I managed to get along in life before I met you, Watson. You are not obligated to care for me like a governess.”
Watson looked taken aback, and finally Holmes felt a slight sense of real satisfaction. She straightened up her own posture and turned back to the desk.
“Don’t you see it’s not that simple?” Watson asked wearily.
Holmes turned back around, still frustrated. “It’s quite simple! You’re constantly hung up on whether or not your patients or anyone who comes around believes we’re prim and proper, constantly concerned about what everyone thinks, but why should you bother? You don’t have any obligation to them, there’s no law that can persecute you for being a spinster or an eccentric. We make enough to live off of, and if you do enjoy what we do, there’s no reason for you to give it up like some sort of martyr to the cause of proper womanhood!”
“It could harm our reputations! It already has! People say things, Holmes, about you, about me, you make your living on your reputation!”
“Say what things? That I’m not feminine enough? Very well, then, I’m not feminine. Perhaps other clients will feel more comfortable with someone who very clearly stands apart from the police and the upper levels of society. I’m not going to compromise myself or what I do for the sake of reputation. If you’d like to do so, be my guest.”
With this, Holmes was tired of the conversation, bored of an argument she’d had time and again with her parents before their estrangement and death, with her brother, with more people than she could count. She turned and started to leave the room.
“Holmes.” Watson had taken her arm as she passed by, and when she looked up, their faces were rather near. She tried very hard not to blush, and to keep her chin up proudly. “It’s not just that. People... people start rumours about us having an improper relationship.”
She tried not to flinch. “We are not men. There is no law against female friendship. We have friends in Scotland Yard, we have Mrs. Hudson to attest that nothing has ever occurred between us, I am certain from hearing your friends who were nurses with you in the war tease you that you have men who can attest to your lack of... improper affection. We are not at risk. You are not at risk. There is no need for you to marry except if you... have... affections for someone. You need not do it to protect your reputation. I’m sure that if necessary we could even find some way to concoct a tale of your being a widow.”
Watson sighed, and looked distressed, her hand tightening slightly on Holmes’ arm. “You still don’t understand. It’s not as simple as you’re making it out to be.”
“And why is that?”
There was a pause, and it felt charged with something. Holmes was still speculating on what exactly was going through Watson’s mind when she found her vision obscured - and then realized that she was being kissed.
Watson had pressed their lips together, and it was not a harsh kiss, but there was still a desperation in it.
This was what Watson had meant. Reaching up, Holmes placed a hand at the back of Watson’s neck, and kissed her back as best she could. It had been some time since her last experience, and she hoped that the motions of her lips were not as awkward as they felt.
Watson pulled back, but could not get far. She exhaled sharply. “That is why.”
“I fail to see how this does anything except prove my point that you should not marry.”
They were close, their foreheads nearly together, their lips still only a hair’s breadth apart. Watson opened her eyes, then, though, and they were still unhappy. “It may not be technically illegal, but we are still in danger if we were discovered by the wrong people. We work in a dangerous business as it is.”
“So we will be cautious. You’ve kept this from me this long, and obviously I’m more observant than anyone we’re up against. I’m a master of disguises and regularly outwit nearly everyone we meet. We will not be found out.”
Leaning in slowly, Holmes pressed their lips together again for a slower and more lingering kiss. Her stomach flipped giddily, and she pulled away from the kiss to press her face to Watson’s neck.
“Sherlock.” Watson breathed out her Christian name, and Holmes barely repressed a shiver.
“Jane,” she replied softly.
Watson lifted her face up again, in both hands, and kissed her again, and again, very soundly. After some amount of time, she pulled back, smiling just slightly. “You are incorrigible.”
“Mm. Not to mention horribly depraved, I’m sure. I’ve corrupted you terribly.”
Watson tried to look unamused, but there was still a shimmer of it in her eyes, and Holmes grinned at her.
“Oh, shut up.”
“I’m certain you can make sure I do.”
It took them a very long time before they managed to stop kissing long enough to clean up and get back home to Baker Street. Fortunately, there were no other pressing matters to attend to.